Mary L. Dudziak, ed. September 11 in History: A Watershed Moment? Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003. 240 pp. $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8223-3242-8; $79.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8223-3229-9.
Reviewed by Burcak Keskin (Department of Sociology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor)
Published on H-USA (January, 2004)
The Aftermath of September 11: A Radical Transformation or Old Bottles for New Wine?
The Aftermath of September 11: A Radical Transformation or Old Bottles for New Wine?
A watershed moment implies a rupture in time, after which things no longer exist as we know them. Our norms, rules, and institutions become obsolete because they cannot fully account for transformed conditions of life. Such a moment urges us to re-define foundations of our social existence, of our relationship to others as well as to ourselves. Nevertheless, re-definition attempts are always imbued with power inequalities and the perceived exigency of transformation may legitimize violations of previously achieved guarantees against abuses of power. It is therefore extremely crucial to critically reflect upon (what is claimed to be) a transformative moment and which parts of our social, political, and legal ideals it demands to re-define.
The ten essays in Dudziak's edited volume take issue with the portrayal of the September 11 attacks as a watershed moment in the history of the United States, Islam, and international relations. Authors do not dispute that the attacks affected existing social, political, and legal structures but that the ensuing changes were unprecedented. In other words, September 11 did not bring about a paradigmatic shift in policy-making, identity formation, and jurisprudence. Instead, it re-framed existing paradigms in such a manner that it is now more easily justified to dismiss democratic, egalitarian, and non-violent means in resolving domestic and international conflicts.
The first set of essays evaluates September 11 as a continuation of American imperial pursuits, political culture, and racial practices. The only change is observed in the intensity of measures taken against suspected terrorists and rogue nation-states: the Bush administration suppresses domestic and international opposition more aggressively than ever. According to Marilyn L. Young, it threatens the sovereignty of other nation-states and international rule of law to unprecedented degrees (pp. 11-14). The post-September 11 era entails the revival of World War II and Cold War political practices, albeit with a shift in the targeted objects of action (pp. 18-22). Elaine T. May argues that the administration now persecutes people of Arab descent instead of those of Japanese origin, endorses a nation-wide neighborhood watch against terrorists instead of communists, and encourages Americans to buy consumer goods instead of government bonds (pp. 41-52). Similarly, Leti Volpp writes that non-citizen Arabs substitute for African Americans in racial profiling incidents, although the contemporary victims are now gendered and racialized through deployment of old Orientalist tropes (pp. 152-155). The administration also uses Cold War categories of space (such as ground zero and Pearl Harbor), but it, as Amy Kaplan asserts, hollows out the United States's role in their initial constitution (pp. 56-64). In this respect, the Bush administration reclaims an "American innocence" by projecting its illegitimate activities onto anomalous spaces such as Guant=namo Bay (pp. 65-68).
The second set of essays investigates the meaning of September 11 for the Islamic communities abroad as well as within the United States. Authors point out that the attacks have required Muslims to distinguish themselves from their terrorist co-religionists and to reconcile their religious identity with non-Islamic realities. Such a quest was by no means novel. On the contrary, from the very beginning of their encounters with the West, Muslims were forced to reshape their belief system in response to the latter's advanced technology. Many social movements--such as Wahabbism, which prescribes a total return to the ancient Islamic tradition; Salafism, which endorses reformation of the tradition in line with contemporary developments; or Salafabism, which dictates destruction of contemporary forms without any re-construction--tried to accommodate differences between Islam and the West, but none of them succeeded in offering an effective scheme for peaceful co-existence (pp. 86-94). The September 11 attacks urge Muslims more urgently than ever to find a viable alternative that will decrease the popularity of violent strategies. In accomplishing this formidable task, Khaled Abou El Fadl suggests reforming the tradition in such a way that it addresses Islamic grievances of (post-)colonialism, corporate capitalism, and imperialism (p. 103). Sherman A. Jackson on the other hand points out possible false universals that such a solution may justify. He instead argues for the existence of multiple alternatives so that every Islamic community can reflect its distinct historical experiences onto the present and, hence, resist violent means in its interaction with non-Muslim groups or nation-states (pp. 120-129).
The third set of essays investigates repercussions of September 11 on both American and international law. Authors assert that the attacks have not only obscured the boundary between domestic and international jurisprudence but also led to increasing violations of civil and human rights. Ruti G. Teitel views these developments as a direct consequence of "security sovereignty." This particular understanding has emerged at the end of the twentieth century and justified "intervention in states that are in already recognized conditions of diminished sovereignty" (p. 198). Although intervention may be absolutely necessary in certain circumstances, Laurence R. Helfer and Ruti G. Teitel argue that the right to intervene enables the Bush administration to introduce extensive executive controls over legislature, to militarize the American legal system, and to justify its unilateral, violent actions in the name of national security (pp. 184-186, and 198-207). This situation calls for a new framework that can simultaneously address the concerns for civil rights, and legitimate government and national security. Christopher L. Eisgruber and Lawrence G. Sager see one possible solution in strengthening the gate-keeping role of domestic courts and strictly regulating the procedural content of executive actions (pp. 167-175).
The book ends with Mary L. Dudziak's reflections on September 11 at its first anniversary. She argues that memories of the event became a way to negotiate one's relationship with the United States, whether one sees it as his/her own homeland or as a violent actor launching unjust wars across the globe. Since "constructing a memory involves forgetting," Dudziak reminds us to pay attention to what is suppressed and what is remembered in these recollections (p. 213).
The collection is significant in bringing together different disciplinary perspectives, from legal studies to history, linguistics, and American Studies. More importantly, authors supplement their critiques with concrete proposals for social, political, and legal reform. Their arguments are well supported with examples drawn from the immediate history, court proceedings, witness testimonies, and newspaper reports. The theoretical and methodological astuteness renders the book an excellent source for both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses.
It is, however, crucial to note two inadequacies of the book. First of all, authors primarily focus on the experiences of the U.S. administration, American public, and American Muslims and Islamic communities. Failing to present a full-fledged comparative perspective on the attacks, they underestimate the global scope of post-September 11 developments. Is September 11 only an American event? How do the Bush administration's responses influence interactions among nation-states and/or social groups within the non-West? How do other Western states negotiate their role in the post-September 11 world? What do the attacks mean for immigrants and refugees outside the United States? What does the international membership of anti-war demonstrations imply for contemporary social movements?
The omissions of such questions are understandable, given that the essays originated in a conference that was held in March 2002, when the events did not necessarily call for these particular inquiries. Yet these issues should have been raised, perhaps in the introduction, when the book was prepared for publication under the Duke University Press series on American Encounters/Global Interactions. In its current form, the collection successfully illustrates American experiences of September 11; yet it depicts the rest of the globe not as an actor but as a passive space, upon which American imperialism is more vehemently inscribed each and every day.
Second, it is necessary to ask whether September 11 constitutes a watershed moment for things other than American politics, Islamic communities, and international law. For instance, is it a watershed moment in the history of terrorism, secularism, or the nation-state system? How does it affect social identities that are not based on ethnic or religious attributes? How does it shape the future of American class relations when people from upper to lower classes lost their jobs as a result of the ensuing economic crisis? What does it imply for American women who are now called upon both as mothers/wives and as soldiers?
Despite these unanswered questions, the book occupies an admirable place among others that tackle the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. A "sell-out" or "traitor" status is usually attributed to those who criticize their governments and/or cultural communities in emergency situations. Dudziak's edited volume successfully challenges such a rationale and explores the possibility of peaceful co-existence at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Its emphasis on historical contextualization and critical reflection points to democratic and legitimate courses of action, which are always difficult to speak of or to achieve during times of escalating physical and symbolic violence.
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Burcak Keskin. Review of Dudziak, Mary L., ed., September 11 in History: A Watershed Moment?.
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